A Royal Pain


The Detroit Tigers just finished up their season series with the Kansas City Royals by defeating them 6-3 on Wednesday night, behind the strong pitching combo of Max Scherzer and Doug Fister. While there is nothing hanging in the balance as far as a post-season berth is concerned, the Tigers are still playing for home field advantage, and once again, the Royals have proven to be a huge pain.

On Tuesday night, the Royals smacked around Tigers pitching in handing the Tigers a 10-2 defeat. Over the course of the 2011 season, nobody in the A.L. Central has given the Tigers as much trouble as the Royals, and by the time 2013 rolls around, the Royals could very well be the Tigers stiffest competition in the division. The Royals may be struggling now, but you can see a roster full of potential, and a farm system that ranks among the best in baseball.

The Tigers managed a record of 11-7 against the Royals this year, but in my opinion, they were easily their toughest opponent in the Central. In 10 of the 18 games against the young upstarts, the Tigers played games where the difference was 2 runs or less, with 6 of those contests being one run ball games. The Tigers dominated the recent historical beasts of the Central, the Minnesota Twins, to the tune of a 14-4 record. The White Sox got much of the same as the Tigers went 13-5 against them as well. Detroit is 9-6 against Cleveland this season with 3 games left, but their games have in general but much less stressful against the Tribe.

Right now, the Royals are all about offense, and a promising bullpen. The lineup features a good mix of young guys, and a pair of strong pick ups by sometimes unimpressive GM Dayton Moore. These guys could easily be a part of the Royals for years. The offense is led by the resurrected Alex Gordon, whose WAR is among the best in all of baseball for leftfielders. According to Fangraphs, Gordon is 2nd to only Ryan Braun in WAR with 6.4 wins above replacement level. Since being put in the leadoff spot, Gordon has propelled a solid offense that has the potential to be exciting.

Part of that excitement is coming from the Royals crop of youngsters. Eric Hosmer has been sensational as a rookie, and came into Wednesday night hitting .300 for the Royals. His 18 homers and 75 RBI are just scratching the surface for the 21 year old who has advanced plate awareness. He looks like a future #3 for a lot of years for the Royals.

Adding some “veteran” presence to the lineup are Billy Butler, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Francoeur. I say “veteran” because although it seems that they have all been around forever, none of these guys is over 30. In fact, none are even 28. Butler is just 25 and a pure hitter. His lifetime .297 batting average attests to that, and his OPS is .818 for his career. Both Cabrera and Francoeur have also joined Butler in the over .800 OPS club this year, and it could be that these two guys are just reaching their potential.

On top of the guys already mentioned, the lineup features promising youngsters, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, and Johnny Giovatella. Moustakas is the headliner of that group, and after a tremendously slow start, he has picked things up in the 2nd half of the season. Known as a power hitter, Moustakas hasn’t been hitting bombs in the bigs yet, but he has had an OPS of .870 in September. The encouraging thing is that Moustakas is striking out only around 15% of the time, but he needs to draw some more walks.

Perez and Escobar, despite Perez’ start, aren’t ever going to be plus hitters at the big league level. Perez has a better chance than Escobar to be average, but both of their gloves are going to be the reason they are valuable players. Escobar is outstanding, and Perez has shown to be a good throwing catcher with some aggressiveness.

Pitching is where the Royals suffer a little bit. Their rotation is a little light at this point, and some of their prospects have taken a step back for various reasons. The Royals are going to have to develop some starting pitching if they want to compete in 2012 or 2013. Danny Duffy‘s arm looks like a keeper, but he is going to have to get better with his command. If the Royals should choose, they could deal a couple guys to get some major league pitching, but they may want to wait on guys like Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Jake Odorizzi, and may have to see what Everett Teaford could give them next season.

The bullpen is full of arms that can reach the mid 90’s, highlighted by former 1st round pick Aaron Crow. Crow cold potentially go back to a starting role, but there are numerous guys in this pen to like going forward. Tim Collins, Greg Holland, and Kelvin Herrera are just a few high octane arms to keep an eye on. You also can’t forget Joakim Soria either, who could hold some trade value in the off-season market.

I think there is somewhat a misguided opinion that the Royals won’t be able to keep any of their players. The Royals franchise, and the city of Kansas City have shown in the past, they will indeed support this team. The Royals of the 70’s and 80’s put competitive teams on the field, and kept their stars. If the Royals win, they will have some money to play with because the fans will be there. With the depth they are creating in their system though, it may not even matter, especially with concern to their bullpen. If they make smart moves, there is no reason to believe they won’t continue to improve.

It seems that the Tigers historically have gotten fits from facing the Royals, and this season was no different. Something is starting to look different in the land of the Royals and it’s kind of refreshing. If they can find some better starting pitching, there is no reason to believe they won’t be an even bigger thorn in the side of the Tigers within the next few years. There could be quite a rivalry brewing between these two teams.

All I know is, right now, I am glad to be done with them this year.